Sabres 4, Flames 2 post-game embers: One step forward, two steps back

Losing to a team that is barely together due to injuries isn’t nice. Losing after several decent wins by a team that has struggled to find any shred of consistency isn’t fun. Why the reoccurring theme of the Calgary Flames this season is one step forward, two steps back is beyond me.

Even through the constant themes and noticeable deficiencies that everyone has seemed to catch onto, it still continues and it’s not getting easier to watch.

Let’s talk about Monahan

One of the more legitimate concerns surrounding Sean Monahan prior to signing his big contract was the ever present concern of his abilities in the defensive zone. You could make a case to extend those concerns to the neutral zone on various days, too. Hell, you could make that point about him in the offensive zone too right now.

Virtually in every situation for the majority of this season – even with Johnny Gaudreau – Monahan has been been an unmitigated disaster. And now with Gaudreau out, it’s becoming more and more apparent.

And that’s being polite about it, even if you acknowledge that Glen Gulutzan has tried to find ways to shelter him. With sheltering it isn’t very pretty either and it’s really starting to beg the question of whether or not Monahan is remotely worth the value of his current contract already. Some might see that as a tad overreaction, others find it just. Somewhere in the middle of that topic is the truth.

The chronicling of the game that Monahan plays has been told since he broke in as a rookie in 2013-14. Touted as a Jonathan Toews-lite, Monahan is significantly more one-dimensional than most players on the team. Whereas there is reasonable hope that Sam Bennett can become the future number one centre on this team there is waning belief Monahan can live up to that miscast role brought upon him.

Last night fans got another taste of the immeasurable growing pains that aren’t anything new, but significant in being a noticeable factor in contributing to the situation where the Flames would inevitably end up on a 5-on-3, and succumbing to several power play goals:

With the discussion on Twitter being head-manned by our very own Kent Wilson, here’s the summary of everything wrong with that sequence:

  • Long change in the second (linemates are gassed, stranded, and in desperate need for a change).
  • THE VERY SIMPLE TASK: there is a clear lane out of the zone so get the puck out for a change.
  • He doesn’t get moving at all and Evander Kane catches up with him, forcing the turnover.
  • There is an obvious miss on a pass to Dougie Hamilton on the right-side which could have helped.
  • The Sabres regroup, enter the zone, draw not one, but two calls against as a byproduct of this sequence.

The penalties aren’t Monahan’s fault, but they are a direct result of his inability to make a smart decision. These decisions he often makes that inevitably result poorly for him often have negative results for his team: penalties against, goals against, etc., etc. 

Again, last night he was involved with a situation where there was an opportunity to help out:

This whole goal itself was gross. Everyone involved with the play was guilty, but the point emphasis is on Monahan to get engaged and help contribute to a situation that could have resulted positively for the Flames. It didn’t happen, obviously, and Marcus Foligno scored to put it away. His 46.15% CF at 5v5 with 100% zone starts isn’t anything to write home about.

This is Sean Monahan right now. He is a significant detriment on-ice to driving offense and he’s an even bigger detriment in the defensive zone. He relies heavily on Gaudreau to provide him with high quality passes, the defense to contribute from the point so he can clean up, and seemingly cannot find his way anywhere on the ice right now.

What has taken Gulutzan so long to realize this? Is he going to learn from this – as a coach – and find a way to positively impact Monahan’s development? Maybe he caught on because Monahan’s 13:39 last night was the second time since his rookie season he played in a full game below 14:00. 

So I ask you, fans of this team (that haven’t jumped ship yet): what do you do about Sean Monahan?

Matthew Tkachuk: Disturbin’ The Peace

There’s a vibe to Matthew Tkachuk’s game that is so incredibly obvious that it’s impossible not to love it. The vibe and mentality that every shift might be your last on this planet, playing the game you love, and you’re going to do everything you can to make it memorable. It’s what makes his Corey Perry-style play so infectious.

It’s why fans should be captivated by what he does every night: do everything he can, within his physical parameters to try and make a positive impact. Sometimes it backfires like taking penalties, but prior to last night’s game he was still on the positive side of his penalty differential. It’s an area that if he can maximize his strengths in – by drawing calls whether rightfully or questionably – he can put the Flames in a position to potentially succeed.

The concept of concern that he is and will be a passenger on the Mikael Backlund and Michael Frolik line seems to be a dead narrative. Finally. The Boy Who Makes Everyone Hate Him finds himself engaged in virtually every shift he can in a wide variety of areas. From primary pass assists, to zone entries and exits, to puck battles, and shot generation. He does it all, while keeping up with two exceptionally skilled two-way forwards.

His style of play has rubbed off on his linemates as much as their style has. And it’s meshed wonderfully. Add in the Mark Giordano and Dougie Hamilton pairing and you get shifts like this:

Concerns about his skating – though potentially misinterpreted as too precautionary – have dissipated to near non-existence. He’s an NHL forward progressing very well, playing on the team’s best line, and he’s going to find ways to contribute as much as he can.

Last night: a goal, an assist, and a very acceptable 53.57% CF at 5v5 (four iCF and three shots at 5v5).

The Power Play: Send It To Mars

We’ll try and make time in the coming days (hopefully) to dig in further on each of the power play and penalty kill’s breakdowns, but for now we’ll give you a bit of a teaser within the limitations of words only.

The power play, which is scarier than Frankenstein’s monster; more dreadful than Glitter, Gigli, Catwoman, and that Ben Affleck Daredevil movie. And it’s not to say this team does not have significant firepower to utilize while on the man advantage. In a simplistic standpoint: they’re measurably handcuffed by Dave Cameron and Gulutzan’s design and decision making.

Last night Hamilton got 2:02 of PP time, second to his partner Giordano (2:25). Beyond that, you’re still seeing Dennis Wideman (0:58) and TJ Brodie (1:21) get some considerable amount of time. It’s not to say the latter in Brodie is a bad idea, it’s just you’re not maximizing your results if you can’t squeeze a bit more out of Hamilton.

At forward, it’s even more dumbfounding. Even if with Sam Bennett’s struggles at times, it seems foolish to give him 0:19 while Troy Brouwer cleans up with 2:44 and nothing to show for it. It’s understandable to ride Mikael Backlund and Tkachuk given the offense either runs through them or Michael Frolik currently.

Even then, this decision making on player usage is one layer of the rancid onion that is the league’s worst PP. If this team has any aspirations this spring it needs to be rectified immediately. The Sabres literally beat the Flames because of their power play. If that wasn’t the case – say if the power play or penalty kill was better – then the Flames likely could have won this at even strength.

  • Kensington

    Sit Monahan in the press box for a few games and let him clear his head. His play has been brutal. The only high draft pick who is playing well is MT. Bennett is struggling as well. Hamilton has picked his game up a bit.

    • ssamze

      Agree completely. May be he has nagging injury from last one. He looks slower than last year and does not usr his body to fight for the puck as often. His play reminds me of Big Joe. And I mean the Bad Joe from two years ago.

  • My only concern with Tkachuk’s skating – as somebody that’s watched every minute of NHL hockey he’s played, pre and regular season – is that his first few steps aren’t amazing. He takes a bit to get up to top speed and is frequently caught by defenders on almost-breakaways.

  • everton fc

    That video of Monahan out of position, then the goal… Take a look a Brodie. He let the guy walk in. He needs to play more physical. He’s not cleared guys in front of the net all season.

    What’s happened to his game? It can’t just be “The System”. Or the fact he’s playing on the left-side. What is it??

    They won’t sit Monahan, who they just signed. He (and Bennett) are pros now. They need to work out their games on the ice, not in the press box. Tough love.

    Still, Monahan should not be getting first line minutes. Backlund’s line should be getting these…

  • Kevin R

    Maybe a quick reminder that always seems so easily forgotten, Monahan got his big contract by scoring goals, lots of them. Hartley & his horrible possession system created way more high end scoring chances than what GG is trying to instil. But that was at a horrible cost. Even our magician JG had been struggling over this possession system. Let’s call it what it is, it stifles the offensive players, it makes them take longer to make conservative(Possession Type) decisions on the ice. The flags are so obvious, the bottom 6 forwards are thriving & the top forwards are lost.

    But heck, our Possession numbers is so much better, right?

    Does structure mean not taking high reward high risks on the ice? Until GG figures out how to put the structure & allow the creativity for his best players, this thing is going to get ugly. For God sakes, I’m sick & tired of everyone wanting to jettison all our top 10 picks because they are being asked to play the game like a 3rd round pick instead of what got them picked in the 1st round (JG is the exception but he should have been a 1st overall).

    • No one is saying jettison him? And frankly no one is demanding he play the game like a “third round pick” or whatever that means. There has to be some sort of effort in his game when away from the puck.

      Something, literally anything. It’s fine if you’re one dimensional and you score goals. But there is significantly more expected, at center, than just scoring goals. Frankly, there is and should be more expected of him.

      The same issues with his game, away from the puck, have existed in the Hartley system and the Gulutzan system. The difference being right now he’s not scoring and the problems in his game are becoming increasingly obviously.

    • Scary Gary

      I’m not sold your stated cause (GG coaching) and effect (lack of top six scoring) are related, you could argue a number of other third factor reasons as well: pressure due to Monahan and Gaudreau’s contracts, Monahan back injury prior to season, Gaudreau missing training camp (new coaches system), the D pairings to start the season, a brutal powerplay (Cameron), too much time killing penalties, lack of a top line RWer, Monahan moving in with his girlfriend, Gaudreau and Bennett living together in a penthouse condo, etc.

      Despite our brutal powerplay we’re middle of the pack in goals scored. What we really need to do is keep the puck out of our net, we’ve allowed the most goals against in the league (69) and are 29th in league save percentage, which hasn’t helped (0.844).

      From what I’ve read I don’t think many want to “jettison all our top 10 picks”. People have been critical of their lack of offensive production and defensive coverage though, which is warranted.

    • EhPierre

      Say what you want about our coaching but the numbers dont lie: GG has this team playing good, sound hockey that’d be perfect in the playoffs. Travis Yost did an article about it today. The only reason why we haven’t been winning games is because our defense and goalies have been mediocre to say the least and our special teams are just abysmal. Our defense has always been bad imo as we’ve never really had a good defensive structured game or a good defensive defenseman and that in turn affects our goalie’s performance.

      As for special teams, well something’s gotta give eventually, right? I hope..

        • EhPierre

          First, Monahan hasn’t been playing with 4th line grinders. Ferly is a great player just not being utilized properly. As for Chiasson, you’re forgetting the fact that Monahan also had JG on the wing with him so I think JG cancels out the effect that Chiasson had

          Second, GG is making the players play a puck possession game which is the first step of playing a defensive structured game. The more you have the puck on your stick, the less you have to defend, right? There’s only so much GG can do when there’s pressure from upper management to play Wideman 22+ mins in a game to showcase him or to scratch Kulak (who’s been one of our better defenders) because they don’t want scouts of other teams noticing him too much. Plus if you consider how suboptimal Gio and Brodie and Hamilton to an extent have been playing, well you can’t put all the blame on GG.

          I agree that our special teams coaching need to under scrutiny and hopefully fired.

  • Juan Valdez

    I’m not buying the Monahan back injury rhetoric. He’s just a lazy player that got lucky by being in the right place at the right time. Even last season there were instances where he was giving up on the play and not supporting his teammates.

    Hopefully he gets exposed to Vegas because I can’t see any other team taking a chance on him the way he’s playing right now.

    • EhPierre

      As frustrating as it with Monahan exposing him to LV for nothing would be an awful mistake. I’ve never been a fan of Monahan due to his skating, lack of physicality, among other things but I do recognize the fact he has a great shot

      It’s why I think Monahan should be converted into a winger i.e JG-Bennet-Monahan. Monahan doesn’t have to think too much regarding centre responsibilities and he can just focus purely on getting the shot

      Is this ideal? Obviously not since the plan was always having Bennet and Monahan be our 1-2 Centres. Converting Monahan into a winger slightly puts us behind in our rebuild but the coach has to do something with Monahan and if that means having to put him as a winger temporarily for him to get his game, so be it

    • Jumping Jack Flash

      I disagree with the comment that Monny is a lazy player. Nothing in the last few years have indicated that he mails it in. He is not explosive so his skating always looks suspect but his hockey IQ and release kept him at an elite level. This year a new system and a nagging back injury has seemed to slow him down. I still look at his off season training as one of the primary casuals.

      Sometimes players are so determined to increase their size and strength that they add the wrong type of weight. Over the summer,I saw a video of Gio, Monny, Jooris, and Grant all working out. The video showed Gio, Jooris, and Monny bulking up but does not appear to have helped any of them get the edge they were looking for. IMO off season training schedules need to be monitored by experts. There is a reason why Gary Roberts, and other skill experts are so highly regarded.

      I can think of 3 really good examples of heavy footed average skaters dramatically improving their stride and explosiveness: Jamie Benn, John Tavares, and Alex Nylander. Players like Monny and Tkachuk need to continue to seek out this expertise.

  • Albertabeef

    I think Mony playing with 4th line grinders has greatly affected his offensive output. Ferland last year and Chaisson this season? What the hell why not throw Bollig out there as well. KK BB BT and GG all need a ticket back to Vancouver. Don’t let the door hit you where the good lord split you on the way out.

  • T&A4Flames

    What to do with Monahan? Do what we always do when we need a player producing….put him with Backs and Frolik for a few games.

    As was said in the blog, Tkachuk will find something to do on any line with any teammates that will help the team win. So put Mony with the Mick’s, whether at C or wing. Get him going. Maybe at C since he has better finish than Backs.

  • Derzie

    The coaches stink, but we just signed on for multiple years. The depth stinks, but we are at the cap. Every argument is a detail of these facts. These are GM problems. Big ones.

  • Baalzamon

    At the end of the game last night, we saw Monahan playing with Backlund and Frolik. Can the Backlund bump salvage/stabilize Monahan? Maybe. But there are two inherent problems: 1) putting Monahan on the wing negates the benefit of his faceoff ability (though this is mitigated by the fact that Backlund, Stajan, and Hamilton are all 53% or better on draws this year) and 2) it puts Monahan and Frolik on the ice at the same time (which history suggests is basically the worst idea ever for whatever reason). Thus, I propose the following:

    1. Frolik – Bennett – Brouwer
    2. Tkachuk – Backlund – Monahan
    3. Shinkaruk – Stajan – Chiasson
    4. Ferland – Hamilton – Hathaway

    Crazy? Probably.

    • I don’t think these lines are crazy at all. And I’d advise Gulutzan to stick to whatever lines he creates for the entirety of a game rather than changing them mid-game in the manner that Mike Keenan like to do back in his tenure as the Flames head coach.

    • everton fc

      How about this:

      Tkachuk-Bennett-Brouwer/Versteeg

      Monahan-Backlund-Frolik

      Ferland-Stajan-Versteeg/Brouwer

      Shinkaruk-Hamilton-Hathaway

      (Bench Chiasson or waive him)

      I think this gives us four pretty good lines, though no true first line. Yet.

    • Nick24

      If you can’t keep control of the puck anyway, what does winning faceoffs matter? Maybe Monahan and Frolik don’t blend, but when they did play together, they had terrible luck, maybe if nothing else is going, you could try it again.

      However, Ferland and Monahan have had decent success together in the past. paring them up could have value for Monahan. Especially if you put them with a competent driver, maybe Versteeg, we may at the very least see a line that can tread water. Considering how Monahan has played, his line being able to play the opposition to a draw would be a welcome change.

  • Ogie Oglethorp

    Everyone was cheat thumping last year(s) about ‘the next’ Kane and Toewes. I always felt this was unfair and wildly unrealistic for Johnny and Sean.

    Is he this bad? Absolutely not. Is he Toewes? Absolutely not.

    I figure this season we will realize Johnny isn’t Kane either. It’s not bad, realistic expectations are ok. Miscasting players ruins them (see nugent Hopkins #1 C – lol)

    The silver lining is that mgmt will realize this team just isn’t good enough. Lacking skill. We got the tough skill covered with Tkachuk, SAm. We just need at least 1 more player at least Johnny calibre skill. Likely this means another high draft pick. Or blockbuster trade.

    • Jumping Jack Flash

      IMO the only major difference between Johnny and Kane is their shot. Kane has the added threat of wiring either a wrist shot or backhand with serious velocity. This opens up other parts of his game. On the other hand, Johnny needs more time to get his shot off and rarely shoots from distance making him much easier to defend. When a guy like Patrick Kane is impressed with your game like he is with Johnny…you must be doing something right.

      • dankeykang

        Completely agree. From the blueline in Johnny is fairly predictable because his only trick is to slow down and try to dangle around the defenseman. His wrist shot is a muffin and takes an hour to unload. Kane can slow down like Johnny does but can use the defenseman as a screen and wire a wrist shot, all in a split second. Incredible player.

    • calgaryfan

      Do not say everyone, I have never felt Monahan was a first line center or even close to being Toews. Johnny will be ok.
      This team needs more than 1 more player. At the very least they need a number 1 center and a number 1 defenceman.
      They could use some more players that do not like to lose. A very soft team right now!

  • Jumping Jack Flash

    Next up is Columbus…is anyone else worried that we may hit rock bottom in this game. It seems strange to say but Columbus has pummelled teams at home…ask Montreal who left with their tail between their legs on the heals of a crushing defeat.